Even after the last of the Trumpist mob was driven from the Capitol last week, more than a dozen insurrectionists still occupied what President-elect Joe Biden calls America's "citadel of liberty." Monuments to 10 Confederate soldiers and officials stand within the National Statuary Hall Collection, along with several other rebel portraits and busts throughout the building. Being carved in stone and cast in bronze, these rebels can no longer physically damage American interests, as did their spiritual descendants last Wednesday. But as long as they remain, the statues will continue to send a deeply destructive message: Sedition against the U.S. government is cause for celebration. It was a message that Trump's rioters embraced.
While a joint session of the US Congress was in the process of attempting to certify President-elect Joe Biden's election win, a violent white mob incited by outgoing President Donald Trump descended upon the Capitol building. As some Republican Senators lied about the election outcome, their fervent supporters breached security barriers and stormed the building, breaking windows, destroying offices, and stealing items. I haven't screamed that much at a television since the gassing at Lafayette Square last summer. It was jarring to see footage of lawmakers--many of whom had implicitly and explicitly supported the core beliefs of this mob--hiding, while pro-Trump extremists romped about as if they were on a school field trip. It's already been said countless times and yet is still worth repeating: The response to Black people storming the Capitol building likely would have ended in mass bloodshed.
In November, 1989, when the Berlin Wall suddenly began to crumble and then fall, much of the world watched in awe. Could it be true that Communism was about to collapse? For seventy years, it had been a system, an ideology, that ordered large swaths of the globe. Now a whole vision of history--a vision meant to maximize freedom, but which had turned, over time, into tyranny--seemed to be leaving the stage. Many people still possess, as I do, little pieces of concrete from the Berlin Wall.
Workers in New Orleans removed the first of four prominent Confederate monuments Monday morning, becoming the latest Southern institution to sever itself from symbols viewed by many as a representation of racism and white supremacy. The Liberty Place monument, which commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government in New Orleans, was taken away on a truck in pieces around 5:35 a.m. after a few hours of work. The removal happened early in the morning in an attempt to avoid disruption from supporters who want the monuments to stay, some of whom city officials said have made death threats. Workers who took the monument down Monday could be seen wearing bulletproof vests, military-style helmets and scarves that obscured their faces. Police were also on hand, including officers who watched the area from atop the parking garage of a nearby hotel.
The adage holds that history is written by the victors, but, as the masked, bulletproof-vested municipal workers who assembled in New Orleans at three o'clock in the morning on Confederate Memorial Day might attest, the most indelible version of the American past was authored by those who lost the Civil War. The workers were there to remove an obelisk dedicated to the Crescent City White League and the Battle of Liberty Place, in 1874. Clashes over American history are typically fought with duelling sets of footnotes and the subjective shade of historiographic essays. This one, which involved death threats issued to the mayor and the contractors bidding on the project, risked being fought using tools with considerably higher stopping power. Four monuments in all, including those memorializing Robert E. Lee, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis, were slated to be removed, and on Sunday protests and counter-protests broke out over the removal.